By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian authorities have released on bail three members of the evangelical Church of Iran who were detained on charges linked to their Christian activities, BosNewsLife learned Wednesday, March 20.
Surush Saraie, Mohammad Roghangir and Massoud Rezaie were released by midnight Tuesday, March 19 after spending over five months behind bars, said Firouz Khandjani, a Church of Iran council member.
"They have been released in the city of Shiraz from the Adel Abad prison on a bail of $80,000 each," he added. "I think it's an answer to prayers that they are free. Ofcourse the bail money is too much."
The Church of Iran, one of the country's largest house church movements, has been facing a crackdown by authorities who oppose the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic nation, Christians said.
It was not immediately clear when the trial against the Christian men would resume. Two other Christians detained with them, Eskandar Rezaie, Shahin Lahooti, are expected to be released as early as next week after the Iranian New Year, Khandjani said.
They were detained October 12 last year during an evening raid by security forces on a house in Shiraz where a prayer service was underway, according to Iranian Christians.
The Christians were soon charged with "evangelism", "disturbing public order" and "actions against national security," Khandjani and other Christians told BosNewsLife.
They were initially held in Plaque 100, the Intelligence Ministry’s notorious detention center, before being transferred to Adel-Abad Prison, where they were held separately from other prisoners.
However concerns remain over other Church of Iran Christians who remain behind bars including Pastor Pastor Behnam Irani, who previously led a Church of Iran congregation in the city of Karaj in Alborz Province.
Iranian Christians have told BosNewsLife that the 43-year-old is unable to walk and was previously beaten by fellow inmates and guards of the Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, also among the toughest jails in the country, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the nation's capital Tehran.
Khandjani said he fears the pastor will not survive the remaining five years of his prison term on "trumped-up charges" of "crimes against national security."
Authorities "want him to die in prison," he added. "In the verdict the judge said that he personally believes the Christian should die on charges of 'apostasy'," or abandoning Islam, Khandhani explained.
In Iran's often secretive court procedures sentences often change.
Khandjani said he was also concerned that "false information is being distributed over the Internet" that Iranian authorities demand money for his operation.
If that was the case, his Church of Iran would provide funds,he explained.
"In the past one person claimed to be connected to our [previously detained] Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, and gathered half million dollars for his campaign, mainly from Canadian Christians. People should be aware of this," he said.
"It's unfortunate that a charlatan misuses the situation."
There are at least 100,000 evangelical Christians in Iran, though some church groups claim that number may be higher, despite strong opposition from Iran's government that claims to defend Islamic values.